Friday, June 28, 2013

7 Quick Takes

1. So I'm trying to read Blessings and the English major in me says keep plugging.  The immature part of me says, "Hey! You've got some Rick Riordan and the 9 Lives of a Girl and three other books just waiting over here like lost chocolate chip cookies. Why not skip the vegetables and live a little?  I'm resolved, I will finish this book before I get to dessert, or gain five pounds thinking about it. 

2. There's a cute little fluffy bunny that lives in our back yard. I thought it was cute when my cute little toddler called me over to watch it for what felt like eleventy thousand minutes as it chewed clover.  I thought she and it were adorable until I realized the little rodent had dug up a flower arrangement of ours to create a new home.  I banged on the window.  The rabbit hopped off. It needs to lay off our garden or I'll get real Mr. MacGregor type mean and catch the little bugger for my kids as a pet.  Of course then we'll be back to spending hours staring at the bunny.  Still, when she does that, it's melt your heart cute. 

3.  Today is the last day of Sister Sharon working at my children's school. She's been so much more than just a kids' principal, she's been a friend.  I told her she was part of the bones of the school now.   It is a brave thing to spend a year in prayer discerning God's will in your life.  Prayers for her year in sabbatical to be fruitful. 

4.  Yesterday, I wrote about zombies.  Today, my daughter showed me a short film that blew my mind.  It is proof that a luminous story can be made even in the odd genre of horror. 

5.  Entering the World of my son.

Yesterday, I went outside to check the garden. Normally I bring my keys but with all ten kids at home, I felt fine simply leaving to harvest some lettuce.  When I returned, the door was locked and no one was in sight.  I knocked and my 4 year old son Paul walked by. He saw me. He saw I wanted in and tried to open the door, but the deadbolt was on so he couldn't.  At this point, I was prepared to go around to the front and ring the bell but I saw my son walk to the doorway to the basement and call very loudly for his sisters. I could see him gesturing and talking, trying to convey in muted muddled language, "The door is locked. Come open the door. Mom is at the door." I heard all three conveyed as he called out for his sisters.  When neither came, he looked over at me worried, put his had out as if to reassure me, and ran to the room where his other siblings were watching television.  By this point, his oldest sister came up, explaining she had heard him and was coming, but Paul also returned with three siblings to get the door open.  I remain amazed by his determination and focus given the level of complexity of the situation he had to communicate. 

6.  And now, an immature grouse.

The package says Bacon.  Serving Size.  1 Slice. 
And all I can think is, "Are You Kidding ME??????"  

7.  It's my birthday...or it will be....

I turn 47 next week.  Blogging will probably be light if only from the cake coma.  Just an FYI. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Living a Luminous Life or What I learned from Watching Zombie Movies...

If we want to see darkness, all we need do is turn on the news. Even our entertainment seems to reveal a fascination and awareness that there is a gathering dark.  Our movies are full of monsters and apocalypses, of all that is good and green being destroyed and burned in favor of the uniformity of creatures consumed by the need to consume, stripped all of beauty, all of individuality and capacity for charity.  There are the predators (the destroyers of the world) and the prey (the not yet consumed and ever yet dwindling group of increasingly vulnerable people).

Our entertainment reveals our fears and what our rational minds don't want to deal with directly; that we fear a great damn of restraint somehow bursting onto our domestic tranquility and destroying everything in its wake.  We do not know what holds back that great appetite. We do not name it though we recognize some of its markers in morality and law.

Neither do we recognize the monsters and their origin, though our creations betray that our subconscious knows.  All of our monsters are undead, demonic, soulless.  All of our monsters seek to turn us into undead,animated but not alive, demonic, soulless.  Ergo, we know even if we do not say, where these monsters come from and why we fear them even as we tell ourselves, they aren't real.  We live in a fallen world, and in a fallen world, the only way to salvation, is the cross and the graces that come from embracing said cross. The only way to participate in the cross, is to be like the one who died on the cross to others, to be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world.

How do we do that when so much of our day is spent on things that just eat time, like errands and emails, laundry and dishes, oil changes and bills, phone messages and waiting for repairmen?  We have to be good stewards of all of our gifts, starting with the gift of time.  The first thing the heroes who hope to survive do, is buy some time to think, to plan, to recover and assess.  They shed everything that isn't important or necessary. I need to be a better steward of my time, and to shed what is not important or necessary.

Honoring Sunday is a second task I've decided to take to heart.  It used to be the day I caught up on everything, so every other day could be easier, but that just meant Sunday was harder than every other day. We are called to be joyful witnesses.  It is hard to be joyful if you're exhausted, ergo, Sunday is necessary if we are to live luminous lives.    It is supposed to be a day of rest, so now we are setting into motion the idea of tidying up on Saturday as a family, so that Sunday is only a willed day. We will go to mass, we will do things together, to rest from the week of work.

There comes a point where the hero loses hope if he goes on too long.  He becomes weary and needs to stop.  The oasis point where he discovers he is no longer alone is necessary to gear up for the final battle.  Our culture does not value leisure. It views play as a means to an end (fitness for example).  It is not that fitness is not a good goal, but it is not why one should play, one should play to experience the joy and freedom that is play.  We will cook on the BBQ or garden or read or write or watch baseball or play cards, but we will be playing on Sunday. We will pray and play, allowing ourselves to rest and recoup and thus be a witness of lighter hearts for the world.

It's a dangerous thing going out your door.  We'd all like to think that somehow our corner of the shire, of the world is safe from whatever it is that is outside, that is out there, but the reality in every good horror film, is that the evil that stalks always comes where you think you are finally safe.  This is a theological battle as well, thus you cannot be content to stay where you are, you must always move further in, further on, you must always learn more, pray more, love more, do more and still hold to the gifts of time as precious and prayer, rest, others and play as necessary. To be a hero in these films, you cannot remove yourself from the world, you cannot despair and you cannot succumb, you must rise, you must continue and you must hope that when a new day comes it will shine out the clearer.  You'll appreciate it more, because you know what could have been and what isn't.

Part of why I wrote this post is that I read a piece by Father Dwight Longnecker, Why I'm Scared.  And I thought, he amongst others who are feeling the weight of the world in light of recent events, needed a reminder that being a light to the world, however luminous, is not easy, but it is necessary.  If you're going to be the hero in this movie, you should recognize, you're going to be scared. You're going to be hunted. You're going to need to keep going anyway.  All of these people, even the ones who write wrong and hateful things in the com boxes, they need to be saved from the disease of sin too.  Since he used the story of I am Legend as his example, I could point out, (SPOILER ALERT), in the end, Legend's self sacrifice allows the woman and child to escape to a safe house with the cure that will eventually help restore those possessed by the disease and allow them to reclaim their humanity lost all this time.   Pray. Rest. Play. Plan.  Act.

So be not afraid.  In the end, we win.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Not Even the Foodie in Me

I love our road trips. My husband always finds the routes less traveled so we get a glimpse of the surreal that is this land of the free and home of the brave.  Braver than me anyway food wise. 

Exhibit#1  Signs for "Stop Now! Rat Cheese!"

I know we were in the Smokey Mountains.  I also know that it is actually a form of very mild cheddar.  I also think no one in their right mind says, I'm feeling peckish.  I could really go for some rat cheese.   No matter what the tradition, it needs a better name.  Just saying.

Exhibit #2  Bear Meat Next Exit.

Mildly peaked by the prospect of engaging in a fit of Darwinian one up manship on a seemingly more dominant omnivore, I still couldn't bring myself to consider purchasing Bear Jerky.   I may be a foodie, but I'm not a non discriminating foodie.   Even memories of reading about Laura of Little House in the Big Woods jumping for joy hoping her pa would bring home a bear drumstick could not make me reconsider. 

But the one that sealed the deal, that I am a yuppie foodie and not naturally curious is exhibit #3. I saved the best for last.


I'll just let you consider the reality of that little delicacy.  My kids speculated on the nature of this food sight unseen.  They envisioned the capturing of countless amphibians, the marrow of their bones being used as natural pectin, and a meaty chutney of some sort being formed.  I had to stop the conversation.

Upon arriving at home, I went online to determine if our caution in any way was warranted.  Naturally Google has everything so I learned that Frog jam was actually a convection of figs, raspberries, orange and ginger.   Sounds good. 

So now I'm looking forward to freaking out my children with my daring, and serving them crackers with rat cheese and a touch of frog jam.  Maybe I'll order some smoked bear just to finish off the dish just for fun.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

7 Quick Takes

1. What I am Writing.

Fiction: Penelope is much harder than Helen, because she does not have the volumes of secondary sources and much of who she is, is based on her long endurance sans husband.  Not a lot of dialogue, even less action, though as Grace Kelly said in Rear Window, fending off wolves is the hardest job a woman ever has to do.  So maybe I'm just not that into her yet.  I'm not a patient writer, it's part of why I blog. Lots of volume, little returning to reflect or rewrite what you wrote yesterday. I'm writing Penelope in part because I think the story is important, but I need to sit with her longer to hear her voice.

2.   Why I am Writing. 

I've started a project, Stories of the Holy Spirit.  As a monthly contributor to the Catholic Stand and Catholic Mom, I needed some sort of hook, some sort of corner of the Catholic blogger universe that was mine. Simcha has the corner on big family laughs paired with thoughtful commentary, followed by Jennifer Fulwiller, with six under 8 and a conversion story to boot.  I'm not a theologian so I can't argue from the intellectual vantage point of being any more informed than anyone else and felt my writing on Catholic matters lacked focus.  Firing from the hip works for blogging, but not for trying to write something of merit, so I am giving myself a focus.  My friend Sarah Reinhard writes about the Blessed Mother, she's made years of meditation with Mary the focus of her reflections and the result is, she has written a few books and become a resource for those wanting to deepen their relationship with Jesus' mother.   Who did I have a good relationship with in Heaven?  Saint Anthony and the Holy Spirit.  I decided that few blogs/writers focus on this third person of the Holy Trinity, in part because we aren't as familiar with the Divine Advocate as we are with God the Father or His Son.   We'll see how it goes.

3.  What am I reading? 

Next up on my reading stack is The Gargoyle Code.  I've had this book for over a year and am finally getting to it.  It's supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the Screwtape letters. It takes no small amount of courage to stand on the back of a theological giant like C.S. Lewis, so I'm eager to see how it turns out. 

4.  How is Parenting? 

I noticed that my children become more animated about unreal things than real ones.  While this is partly normal with respect to childhood as kids live in the world of imagination and slip easily from the real to the not real in conversation and in thought, it is partly a result of our culture creating a whole way of living that touts the unreal as real. 

Animal Crossing, Sim City, Rock Band, Facebook, twitter, tumbler,DS, Wii, all of these allow for virtual relationships that require very little but consume tremendous amounts of time, and so our children come to value what is not real --the accomplishments in the world inside the X-box, more than the world around them.  They will spend hours looking at pictures on the internet, but not go outside where the pictures were actually taken.  How do we help them to become more real, to appreciate the struggle to master the difficult things of real life when a virtual life gives so much appreciation and reward for so little effort?  Yes I turn off the machines, but it is still a matter of getting them to willingly embrace more than day to day existence.  I have to sell work, struggle, slow progress...not an easy thing.  They know the computers will return, ergo, most of the time, they can wait me out.  

5.  I am Still a Mess

Some days I just should not be allowed outside.  We were getting gasoline and I went into the store to purchase diet cokes. Getting back into the car, I proceeded to put my purse to rights.  As such, I discovered I'd left my wallet inside.  Within the same week, I also managed to send my sister two books and two presents for her children for their birthdays, only to discover I'd written down the address incorrectly.  (Sigh). 

6. What I See

There is a product we lack in this country. I know, you wouldn't think a nation that created whole new unhealthy beverages that we consume by the truckload monthly would in any way have any want that isn't marketed to within an inch of its life and sold for 9.99 plus shipping and handling.   But I see it in politics. I see it in sales, in testimonies, in responses to celebrities and their trials, in Facebook blow ups that deal with more sensitive issues like race, same sex marriage and abortion.  We are lacking the salve of society that allows for difference of opinion, the presumption of good faith, that it is the rare bird who affirmatively seeks or wishes ill for the country, regardless of political affiliation.  We no longer grant to a person unknown once his or her political stripe is known, the benefit of the doubt and charity of gracious respect for a diverging opinion from our own.   Society will not long withstand the assault on civility borne of the presumption  everyone who disagrees with me is deliberately filled with ignorance or malicious.  We have to reapply the salve of graciousness before we forget its incredible power to sustain friendships, create them, and build bridges between seemingly intractable positions of policy. 

7.  What I Hope

That we will start to remember to be more salt to the world, even as we cut back on our use of it ourselves.  Vacation ends tomorrow.  This has been a good retreat for the heart, head, body and family, if not the wallet.  Hope they hold the memories of this week, I know I do. 

Top Ten Reasons Why The Kid is Named North

10) Apple was already taken.

9) Wouldn't be confused by multiple kids responding when being called on in school. 

8) Kim lost a bet with her sister Khloe and it was either that or promise to forego the epidural.

7) Wanted to name the kid South but SWA wouldn't bite so the corporate tie in with The North Face a lock for this baby!

6) Taylor Swift accepted Kanye's apology, but with one small proviso...

5) North...West.. Middle name to be By North. They're also big into Alfred Hitchcock.

4)  Closet Tea Partiers, they chose to honor former marine, Oliver.

3) Kim...."North?  You announced that our daughter's name is North????I said Nordstrom!!!!!"

2) Wanted a name with real altitude...then realized they really meant attitude.

1) Would anyone be discussing their not yet born daughter if she was a girl named Sue? 

Strange Gods and Cool Moms

One of the things I decided I needed to do for myself this year was read a book a month.  In May, I read Strange Gods by my Internet friend, the very excellent writer, Elizabeth Scalia.  She addresses our proclivity to create for ourselves Golden Calves to worship in our everyday life.  As I walked through the pages, I saw my earlier self when she got immersed in physical fitness, when it was all volunteer all the time, when I obsessed over gourmet cooking and discovered writers forums. 
Every time, what began as a good, an interest, a passion, a hobby, would eventually become less good, an obsession, a substitute, a routine or want that became a need and thus a chain.  This is not to say that foodie lover impulses or work outs or learning a new trade via reading/interacting with professionals online is a bad thing, only that my natural tendency toward being enthusiastic would allow the right order of things to become disordered.  I'd even done it with prayer!  It is a good but hard read in the same way going to the doctor and stepping on the scale is a good but hard notice, time to stop eating apple bread and go for a walk.

In June, I read my friend Tracy Beckerman's Lost in Suburbia and while she tackles coming to terms with motherhood through humor, she and Elizabeth are talking about the very same thing, our innate desire both to be consumed by whatever role we've chosen/been given  and to be noticed as singularly unique and special, beyond the role we've chosen/been given.  I laughed out loud several times at the pool and in the car before I finished, seeing my own self in the unwieldy battle between  trying to be mom and still more than mom and becoming increasingly crazy whenever one's own identity gets lost and  the mom role of one's life takes over entirely. I have known that strong need to stand apart and separate from everyone else, which when given, makes me wish to blend and be one in a million.   Ultimately, her search for the cool person within (read happy with herself and who she is and where she is and why she is in life), mirrored my multiple idol creating quest and the deep frustration and unhappiness that came with being ill at ease with wherever it is that I was before coming to terms with my own self.

 Being a mom of many, I've often felt subdivided and like I'm never doing what I should be. Ironically, it's meant I've cast about rather than be still, the best example being when my oldest son set me straight. I was expecting our ninth.  I'd volunteered to be the chair of the fall festival and I was writing.  Aloud I mused, "Do you think I should coach Peter's baseball team?"  He pushed himself back from the computer game he'd been playing.  "Are YOU CRAZY?" he asked. 

It struck home. I was trying to somehow do it all, to show I could do it all, but by casting myself apart from my family, rather than being present to it.  I didn't have the words then for what I was doing, creating an idol, in servitude to myself. But what I learned from my friends and family and years of hits and misses is not to beat myself up over the times I become overtaken by enthusiasm, but to just keep starting over. 

So today, I got up early and was writing when three children asked for breakfast. After I'd served them, I returned to the table but the laptop now took up too much space.  Symbolically, it was correct, the laptop should not crowd the family.  It was a gentle reminder, priorities.  Removing the computer, I looked at those still sitting at the table, happy, eating, content.  I looked at my daughter who was still on the couch.  "Want to play some pinball?" I asked. She beamed like a sunflower.  "Cool mom!" she said as we went up stairs.   Yeah.  I am a cool mom too. 

Can't wait to figure out what July's book will teach me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism Week 4

Welcome to the 4th session of Lawn Chair Catechism, using Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

Stop by to participate by leaving your own reflections in the combox or linking your blog up with your thoughts as I have done here.  

The question is not, “Who can I persuade to fill this vacancy?”  The question is, “Who has God put in my parish life, and what does He want them to do?”  The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit enable the believer to carry out his or her vocation.

For discussion:

In your own faith:
  • Can you recall a “before” and “after” time in your life, when you became a true disciple of Jesus Christ?  I know that I keep trying, but it is a two steps forward, one step back type of thing. I wish I could be stapled into place and not wander, but I am a person who constantly says to God, "Now what?" I have known God to answer all my prayers. Every single one. I have known and watched as our lives were rewritten before our eyes.  My son didn't get into Saint Martin's school for kindergarten.  We were a family of four, my husband, myself, William and Bonnie.  It suddenly became important to me, that my children receive a Catholic education. It became vital in my head and my heart.  We'd been denied. 

  • A woman pulled me aside after mass --we were a two to three week a month drifting from Parish to Parish according to mass times and desire to go family, and told me if I wanted my kids in the school, I had to be involved. The pastor had to know my name.  Impulsively, I signed up for Parish Council that weekend.  Then I got the call, I could be on, but it was a three year commitment of three Monday nights a month and I'd have to be in charge of a  committee. God's subtle way of saying, "Do you really want this?" and I said yes.  We started going to mass more often because I had to sell donuts after them once a month and check to see that the other groups showed.  We got to know the Pastor, we became more regular and more involved. My son got into the school, and we were pulled deeper and deeper in...that to me is how it always happens, we say yes and God floods the world with opportunities to answer that yes if we really mean it.  It did change us.  We sometimes struggle with praying and the hardness of the labor of the yes, but we did mean it.  We said yes, and we have to go on saying yes, to go on proving by our commitment of time and our lives, that this is something we very much want, to have our children know their faith, live their faith, love their faith.    

  • Have you ever witnessed that change in someone else?

  • Yes. One of my favorite stories about my oldest son, is how he saved a life of a person he's never really known.  Being lonely and stuck at home and not coping with it very well that first year, I pushed his stroller all around the hot streets of Houston, desperate for company.  I made friends with the drycleaner, the photo lady, the pharmacist at the more expensive place which meant I wouldn't use the cheaper one because this woman knew my name, and the receptionist at my apartment complex.  Every day around lunch, she'd see me pushing the beautiful blue perambulator my in-laws had given us about the grounds. She'd wave me in and coo at my son.  One day, I walked by and she didn't wave me in, she was crying.

  • I went in to see what was wrong.  She explained she'd just broken up with her boyfriend and then discovered she was pregnant.  Friends had offered her a ride to the abortion clinic but seeing my little baby every day, she just couldn't do it. She looked at my son and the tears came again.  I wasn't an expert on any of this, I was  a first time mom who was fighting tooth and nail the boredom of being home alone and not comfortable with my own self and my new role that seemed so limited and stifling.  But I put my arm around her and began asking questions that to this day, I know were Holy Spirit directed, because they weren't what I would have thought to ask. 
  • Does your boyfriend know?  Answer: No.  I told her he needed to know because this was his child too. Even if you have broken up, he should know, he has a child, he's the father. She nodded, "Okay."
  • Do you have family who can help you, like your parents? This is their grandbaby.  She nodded again, "I'll tell them first." I said no, tell your boyfriend first, he has a right to know. She admitted she worried he would counsel an abortion. 
  • Long story short, we talked, I hugged her, fished a bit of chocolate I had with me out of my purse, the very thing that undermined my walks, and I went home worried and praying, really praying for my friend.  
  • The next few days, I didn't see her, though I took my walk daily and worried. 
  • The following Monday, she waved me in from my normal routine.  "You've got to come in!" she beamed, "I told him.  I told him and we are trying to work it out, to get back together."  she said.  We hugged.  She told me she'd moved in with her parents, they were supportive and that they were going to her first obgyn appointment next week.    Hugs and kisses, joy all around.  We moved from Texas and I lost track of my friend until we came back for a visit and stopped in to see our old home in Houston. 
  • She ran out to greet me, to hug me.  She and her now husband had two children, a boy and a girl.  It was a hug that said so much in the few seconds we had together, of a life transformed by the loneliness of one woman, and a little boy only 4 months old in his pram, who smiled with his whole body every time anyone picked him up. It was a transformation of not just one but many lives, by the Holy Spirit. 
So the fruit of the Holy Spirit is always born out by its expansiveness, by its ability to pull out of suffering and pain and loneliness, something beautiful and luminous and greater than any human heart could imagine, for the human heart cannot imagine the joy available to it, by housing the Holy Spirit. 

Moments of Perfection

We did the epic.  We took all ten children to Disneyworld. 

Despite long debates and agreement that breaking the groups into two and tailoring the experience to the ages involved, we ultimately wanted this to be a family vacation and so we all went together.  We dressed alike, had assigned partners and switched off often. 

Here were the moments that acted as a photograph in my mind, of the experience. 

Regina's sly smile became a wide mouthed grin as she saw the princesses dancing at the castle. 

Rita's euphoric "I'm driving! I'm driving! Faster Mom! I'm just like a teenager." (editorial note, she's almost as good but that shout has made me consider the possibility that she shouldn't be liscenced until she's 18).

Anna Maria in "It's a Small World." Up until that point, she'd shook her head "No." to everything, but this was the ride that began to uncurl her from thinking this world was just too unreal for her sensibilities.

Getting completely drenched top to bottom with six of my children --not from the ride of Splash Mountain, but from the rain which started falling with a vengeance during Splash Mountain.  We all started laughing. They did warn us, we might get wet. 

Marta going into the sweet shop to buy her sister a rice crispy treat when the samples got devoured before she got one. 

William lifting his brother John up onto his shoulders so he could see the electric light parade. 

Bonnie playing with her younger siblings and really helping them experience Disney. She lifted up Regina to look out the ferry so she could see the final parade on the lake surrounding the Magic Kingdom.

Faith and John driving by themselves on the speedway.  Both felt very important and proud.

Peter going on multiple rollercoasters (twice). 

My beloved husband shouting out in surprised joy at the fireworks.  They were lovely.

Paul wanting to hold both his dad's and my hand during the laser show. He got that this was a communal experience, that it should be, and that this was a perfect moment to be cherished. He was right. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hey Beautiful

Originally written back in 2007 for Father's Day. 

Dad always answers the phone to me, “Hey Beautiful.” It always makes me smile.

My dad reads German theologians for recreation. He also puns constantly and loves Notre Dame, the Astros, fishing, hunting and 99.9% of all classic English literature. He is Texan. He is Southern. He is Catholic.

When I was a kid and he was mad, even if I wasn’t the person who did anything, I went to my room and cleaned. The thundercloud would roll by and see a virtuous kid doing only right stuff. This was the image I strove to maintain. I had figured out it would keep me out of trouble. It did, and my parents got a clean room out of the bargain, by allowing me to think I was manipulating them.

I remember him teaching me how to do flips off the high board and how to drive. He taught me to rig a lure for fishing and retrains me when I forget. He didn’t yell when I wrecked the car again. He met all my dates. He made me watch Casablanca and The Quiet Man. He bought me a guitar and a silver bracelet. I can gut a fish, train a dog and make Coq au’Vin today because at some point, he taught me. I cannot do algebra. He tried to tutor me. I know something of Latin. He made me take it. I scream like a banshee at Notre Dame Football. He showed me the game and helped me come to obsess over it.

Dad drove me to get ice cream when I lost my wallet at Christmas. Dad took me out to lunch when I worked at his office. Dad asked me to paint some crabs on the fireplace at the beach house and helped reel in the 40+pound Red Fish I had hooked. Dad danced with me at the Debutante ball and I wished, oh how I wished, he was at the table with me, for my date was boring.

Senior year at Saint Mary’s College, he wasn’t coming to Father/Daughter weekend. I tried to be offhand about that, I wished he could be there but knew money was tight. The Sunday before the Father/Daughter weekend, my then boyfriend proposed. That Friday, Dad was on a plane.

As my roommate and I got dressed to go out to dinner with him, Dad was serving as her dad for the night too, I said, “Just watch, the first thing Dad’ll say is “Why do you want to marry my daughter?” Annie laughed and disagreed. “I’ve met your Dad, he won’t say that.”

We picked up Marc, my fiancĂ© at Notre Dame and drove to the restaurant, Dad, Marc, Annie and Me. No sooner were we all seated, then my father said, “Why did you ask my daughter to marry you?” Annie and I looked at each other and bust out laughing. Marc was left with two giggling girls and no help. He rallied. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Dinner was fun.

That summer I worked at his office. I went on walks with him sometimes when we were both dieting. We’d talk about food and how much we missed it. We’d argue over wedding plans, band vs. DJ, morning suits vs. Tuxes, receiving line vs. announcements by the band.

Eventually, My Dad sang the Notre Dame Fight song to me as I walked into the Church to get married. It helped me to stop shaking. I remember Dad’s smile as he walked towards me at my wedding reception to have our dance, but I do not remember the song.

Sometimes he sends me papers by his favorite theologian, Von Balthazar. I dutifully try to read the treatise, “Does Original Sin Exist?” but I want to scribble back a short post-it, “Yes. Next Question.”

Dad has had many heart surgeries, but the one I remember is the one in 2000. I arrived after the surgery had taken place, and sat in the living room with Danny and Joe and Jennifer and my newly crawling son, feeling how empty the house felt with Dad in the hospital. When we went to visit at the hospital, Joe and Danny attempted to move Dad by lifting the recliner he was in, and dropped the chair. I was terrified, but Dad was okay. He showed me the stitches that ranged all over his body. They had cut open his chest, taken out his heart, stopped it, cut away things and put everything back together and stitched him up. I looked at the long line of black threads on his legs and arms and it looked like a large black rosary to me had been carved onto his body. It hurt to look but he was alive and so I looked anyway. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time.

Just before we left, a former partner of Dad’s, dropped by to check on Dad. I had entertained a long-standing dislike of the firm restructured and Dad left. I occasionally called to jam up the 1-800 line at the firm but knowing this was childish, I had stopped. Seeing the man visit my Dad at the hospital, I thought, “Damn, now I’m going to have to forgive them.”

Dad held no grudges so I couldn’t either, much as I might sometimes want to…really. That ugly stuff still doesn’t matter. He still calls me and says, “Hey Beautiful.” because that’s how he sees me and how God sees each of us. “Hey Beautiful.”

And by saying that, over and over, eventually, we come closer to becoming it. 

Happy Father's Day Dad!

2013 update:  When I went to see my dad in April, his face lit up. He doesn't speak often these days.  But when I came into his room in April, his face lit up and he said, "Hey beautiful." Yeah. I cried.

Friday, June 14, 2013

7 Quick Takes

1. Dr. Who

So my daughter is hooked on Dr. Who.  As a sign of love and solidarity, I am watching it as well. She started me with season 5, Matt Smith, and the funny thing is, while I find it enjoyable, I do not yet love it as I loved Babylon 5 or Deep Space 9 from the get go.  I see a lot of shortcuts in writing which bother me.  The force of the character is what drives the narrative, without the narrative being always internally consistent.  For example, the Doctor says he chooses his friends very carefully and that there is a lot of good in the friend he has chosen.  I have yet to see the depth of that goodness in Amy, except when she is driven by grief to have deeper feelings for Rory and even then, she does not pause for a moment to recognize that in surrendering one reality (that of domesticity) she is also surrendering her child.  So I'm not yet sold on her goodness, because I see her acting out of love for Rory, but because she needs Rory to be in her life.  She still seems like a soul that does not want an anchor in life, in relationships, in time.  She seems immature to me.  I'll reserve judgment. But I do however have some life lessons from watching Dr. Who.

2.  Weeping Angels have nothing on Active Toddlers.

You know the phrase, "Don't even blink." about the weeping angels. For those not watching this import from the BBC, weeping angels are aliens that look like statues of angels you would find in the cemetery. They can only move when you are NOT watching. But they do move. And their goal is to kill you.  The image of an angel becomes an angel. Ergo if you look at an angel in the eyes and fix the image in your head, an angel forms in your head which will eventually as you fixate on said angel, come out and kill you.

Toddlers notice when Mom in a fit of stupidity eats Frito Pie for lunch and thus crashes on the couch. Toddlers think, now is the time to experiment and explore.  With a 20 year old, 17 year old and 15 year old in the house, one would not consider this to be as dangerous as angels that make you weep, but they went to the closet.  They got out the powdered sugar.  They walked through the first floor.  At some point, they figured out that this mess they'd made was bad, so they got out the brooms.  My 15 year old woke me to show that our entire first floor had been dusted like a beignet.  It took two vacuums, three brooms, two mops, two rolls of towels and said 20, 17 and 15 year old plus myself to restore order.   They looked like little angels.   I came close to weeping.

3.  Father's day is coming up.  My kids made a video.  I'm very proud.

4.  School ended today.   Instantly my kids changed into swimsuits and had a water balloon fight outside.  Stupidly, I stayed inside. One of these days I really must learn.

5. Yesterday, we had a tornado to the north and the east of us and we're not in Kansas.  It took a considerable amount of persuasion to convince one child in particular that as strong, fast and capable as he is, I was not granting him leave to go jogging during the time when the warning was in effect.  The sky I saw had looked formidable, like the gathering dark at the gates of Mordor, and no amount of exercise is healthy in a storm.  After the all clear, it took equal parts of persuasion to convince littles to come out from the blanket camp they'd made out of the table.

6.  Working on Penelope. It was easier to draft Helen because there were stories about her  in every age. The story of Penelope is mostly the same, ergo I have to address how she coped with that sameness.  I also have to figure out how she didn't become turned inside out by the long loneliness.   Suggestions of books to read/research would be gratefully accepted.  Feel free to leave them in the com box.

7.  Lastly, a poem from my small stones collection.

All time has stopped
as my toddler
curls up into my lap
and holds my hands in his,
there are no words,
just an occasional nuzzle
and a headbutt when I'm not looking.
As far as he's concerned,
life is perfect.

Sherry and the Zombies

There are moments when prayers are answered and my first response is, "I got to stop praying." I don't mean it, but the sinful part that doesn't want a deeper relationship with God or a more meaningful relationship with anyone else, does.  Because too often, I hold to God and focus only on His generosity, and no where, no how, it's too scary, will I allow myself to focus on His searing instruction that demands the death of self.
But it kept coming up.

 Recently, I began praying for the ability to hold onto friends.  I asked why it was so hard for me. 

All prayers are answered. When you ask to be made deeper, the fastest root is pain and suffering.  When we experience conflict between our relationship with God and the world, we're thrown into sharp relief with who we are and who we are called to be.  The Holy Spirit is fire. The Holy Spirit convicts.  The Holy Spirit cannot work where there is no room, and I struggle daily with my attempt to double book the world of my ego and the Holy Spirit in the same heart.  Being gracious, the Holy Spirit grievously surrenders the seat to the world every time I say that is what I want.  You win Sherry, here's the world's answer.

Then I wonder why I am miserable. 

I've come to know my ego is rather zombie like.  I keep thinking its dead, it is not, but it is not fully alive either, it is undead.  It keeps coming and when I am not vigilant, it takes over, eats my brain, and I no longer see what I am doing is destructive. I only feed my desire.  When anyone calls me on it, I attack.  I see that no one else will let me do what I want.  Like I said, the ego zombie eats the brain.

This is not a case of false humility, it is a case of knowing while I am reflective, I am not thoughtful.  Thus I am great for the instagram/twitter type moment of generosity or friendship, I see you, you need to talk, I listen. I see you, you need help, I do. I see you, you ask, I will give.

But the long term stuff, the thinking and thinking and thinking of you stuff that matters, where the other person is surprised by a gift of self often slips by me and I have hurt people in layers over time by my careless ways of drifting through friendships such that a lot of those that could have been infinitely precious, eventually ebb away. These patterns to the other affected seem at best thoughtless and fickle; they convict me of being well intentioned, but wrong.  We all know where good intentions lead.  Faith without works is empty.

The zombies seem harmless and slow but ultimately if not stopped, will kill that which is good because they cannot see the value of anything save their own appetites.  (I'll ignore the current rage for sentient zombies who are somehow heroic), I don't need any help in rationalizing the extent of my own appetites

Talking with a classmate from college, we related in an instant our hang ups about friendships and then proceeded to provide our very own examples of that reality without even realizing it.  She always felt she was intruding. I talked about how I clown and expand to fill the room trying to put on a show to prove I'm likable.  We'd decided to walk to the grotto. I immediately began painting a picture of the whys of it, to prove she should go with me. She'd already agreed.  Immediately she asked if I wanted that time to myself.  I said no.  But the proof of our hang ups was right there. "Are we ever going to get out of our 7th grade selves?" I asked.  We both laughed.

But the question lingers.  When will this zombie ego that only likes to be liked in the moment and never wants to grow beyond here just stop already? When will it know that it doesn't need to do that and shouldn't and that if it really wants more than the instant and ever less satisfying gratification of the cheap laugh, it is going to have to think or feel beyond me, me, me and now, now, now and the next now?   

Like all sin, the only solution is 1) to see it --which is quite painful, 2) own it --again, ow, 3) ask for grace to overcome it yes, I'm doing that, and 4) repeat repeat repeat times infinity while doing whatever grace directs you to do, i.e. change.  So I'm asking and that's a scary act.  Then, I have to act and keep acting, and that's even harder.  


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism Week 3

Over at, you can participate in  the third session of Lawn Chair Catechism, using Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).  I downloaded it and am enjoying her easy reading style that still drills down to the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, i.e. to have an actual daily working intimate conversation/relationship with God.
  • Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God? Yes.  Most of the time.  I'm not sure if it is because I'm comfortable talking, or I'm comfortable having a relationship with God, or comfortable talking about God because it might be a means of not actually talking with God, talking about Him. 

  • Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined? What was the criteria? Here's what was laid out on the homepage of
  •   . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.
  • . . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable of their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church.
  • . . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.

  • I a "normal" Catholic. 
  • Criteria #1  I think I am naturally preset as enthusiastic, but again, that may be me being me and not me being about God, but about myself. It is a struggle for me to recognize it is not all about me. Thus it is important that I have lots of other people to pay attention to in my daily life. But I can also use them as a shield to hide from having a conversation with God, and thus avoid Him by being with people as well (under the argument of duty), as well as via my own tendency to be self absorbed.   I am enthusiastic to be Catholic, I'm not sure I am a Christian activist yet.
  • Criteria #2  This is a subject I am working on improving. I've read Kreeft's Catholic Christianity --an excellent readable easily digestible version of the catechism and several saint's works and the Magnificat daily when I can find my copy.  But the more I read, the more I realize that I am a rank amateurs' amateur.  I was put off on the History of the Church by a History of the Church teacher, not because of the subject but the person.  Now, I don't know where I would start, but I do know, it is a weakness in the armor of my faith.  I am still a baby jedi of the faith.
  • Criteria #3 Do feel this is an area I am working on constantly. When I went to the Parish picnic, I was struck by all these people of faith, working so hard to live it out, and how glad I was to be counted in their company, and how much I very much want this fellowship in my life. Probably need to formalize some of this though. 
  • I look at the criteria and recognize the flaw for me in all criteria I examined, is the same, an organic response --that of a child to stimuli, rather than that of an adult, and to be an adult in faith, I'm going to have to will some of this into being by cooperating with God's grace (ah, there's the rub) and surrendering my will to do otherwise. 
  • This is not to say I do not have some grasp of my faith, only that I need to knuckle down and do the work of engaging God and others through that relationship.  I need to hold that moment in the mass that is my favorite: after the Eucharist, when everyone is with Jesus, all of us bringing our crosses, our prayers, our whole lives to the altar, all of us asking for the yoke to be easier, or the grace to bear what we must, and then, I need to mindfully go out and serve.    

Monday, June 10, 2013

This is Not Better

Honestly, I can't keep up with the news.  There is the IRS scandal involving selective treatment of those applying for non profit status based on ideology. We have Animal Farm and 1984 going on at the same time.  Some charities are more equal than others.  Pro-choice good. Pro-life bad.  --cue sheep for the chorus.

We have Eric Holder shall investigate himself and I'm sure find nothing wrong.

There is the hey, we have a sequester and still no budget to speak of anywhere in sight but no matter, onward!

Gitmo remains open with no end for those imprisoned save death. Hunger strike continues and no one notices.

There is the fast and furious long forgotten.

There is the no call at 3 A.M. except to create a cover story involving a pathetic Youtube video about the killing of our ambassador and three others from Benghazi.

But all of that is old news, it's 2013 for crying out loud, those happened last year and before! Why would we worry about the past?

Okay, if we just stay in the moment: There is the seizing of phone records for the AP and other members of the press, the government investigating journalists for being journalists as a means of silencing those who do not properly show due respect to the White House spin of all things.

Or how about the epic fail of Homeland Security, the FBI and CIA to track two kids in Boston who had been radicalized and who the Russian government warned about being a threat, and the mysterious non story of the death in custody of a person of interest by the FBI? How bad a guy do you have to be to get outed by the Russian government as a baddie?

What exactly will tip off our government to action?  Does Homeland security need the villains to dress like Snidely Whiplash and have bombs with long wicks like in cartoons to recognize that if multiple alarms go off about a guy they should probably investigate?  Wasn't Homeland Security INVENTED to connect the dots between the intel of the FBI and CIA to address these sorts of scenarios?  But I digress. Again, these are old things. That happened in April. It's June.

What's new today?

Last week we learned about the massive data grab with Verizon, the latest indication that this government thinks as long it thinks there is no problem, there is no problem with recording everything said and done by everyone. Yeah we grabbed phone records and could see who you called for how long and how often but hey...we didn't listen in or anything.   Well, then everything's just hunky dory. So glad to know the government is on the job, making sure they know I call my mom almost every day.

Little noted was the fact that our government now photographs every piece of mail it processes.  Why?

IRS spends lavish amounts on line dancing and star trek videos, loses receipts.  It also pretends that the targeting of Tea parties was due to a "rogue agent." Not even a pure sycophant like the New York Times believes that line.

I forgot that the EPA also outed American Farmers in multiple states in public records when they should have been kept confidential, and that there was an imaginary employee that received awards for being an Ethical Employee, a fabrication created by a former head of the EPA who now works as a consultant for Apple.

But the steaming fresh stuff is Prism, a top-secret system at NSA to collect emails, documents, photos and materials for agents to review. Pesky judges can be so cumbersome what with their hang ups about following the law and all that, this way, there's no guess work. You know you've got a thumbs up all the way for everything, no chance of a Simon Cowell type member of the judiciary sending you home empty handed.  What does Prism mean and what can we do about it?  It means no correspondence is free of government scrutiny, so free speech is being "monitored" even if nothing is being done.

Do I sound like a tin foil hat person yet?

I've tried in recent years to get my information from multiple sources, right and left and center, and as close to original sources as possible, but if this many instances smell, from right, left and center, doesn't it mean the whole thing stinks?

Doesn't it mean there is something really wrong when a government has no process of checks and balances of power and no balancing of its check book in the process?   Doesn't anyone think a government that has unlimited authority to tax, spend, audit, spy, to use drones, investigate, and imprison without end (oops and I forgot kill if deemed a threat) might be I don't know...out of control?

To those who say, you should have been screaming then...lots of us did.  But, if today someone is just waking up and sees this is bad, don't you who already knew this was bad think, good, I'm glad you finally woke up now help me tell them to stop this instead of go back to sleep, we don't want you to notice because you didn't see it then and now, we're going to not see it instead?

For those who say, Bush did it first?  So what? It's clear it's been expanded. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now. If you knew it was wrong then, why aren't you furious now? That someone else did it first is a defense I don't take from my kids, why in heaven's name would I tolerate such a lame excuse from the federal government.

Whatever your political stripe, one thing is clear, this is not better.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

7 Only One Day Late....

1. My  poor dusty blog. It's been so long since I wrote an actual humor piece.  I have one in my head that's been kicking around but so far, time to pull all the threads together hasn't presented itself and I don't have more than two humor lines yet to the story's shelved.  That's why I keep doing this 7 quick takes, it lets me post something. 

2. Yesterday I learned that a friend --who had drifted into acquaintance level as a result of time and distance --our lives were no longer in proximity to each other for quick catch ups and laughs and occasional deeper moments of conversation, died from a brain aneurysm.  I frequently feel as if when presented with grief, I get still, almost stuck, where everything takes effort, everything is difficult if not almost impossible to do.  It's not that I cry, it's that I shut down, and it takes real will to begin acting again.  Pray for the repose of two souls that I know and will miss. 

3.  So I talked to my editor and she thinks Helen will be ready to roll perhaps as early as this week. I'm sort of stunted and blunted as I told her, by all that is going I'm feeling both anxious and not ready.  We'll see. 

4.  Today I have to help plan a party for 13 seventeen year olds tonight.  Tomorrow is the Parish Picnic.  Then it is the last week of school...and I'm thinking, I want the dog days of August, when the day feels soooo slow, time flows like syrup.  Yeah. I want one of those sorts of days, where the accomplishment of the day is you did NOTHING.  

5. Yesterday I got to help volunteer with a 7th grade BBQ and as a result, got to know several families I didn't have a working knowledge of as it simply wasn't a class I socialized with much.  It seems I just can't help myself, being with other people is the greatest energy source I have, and it was lovely to hear new stories.  

6. Today a tropical storm is supposed to dump boat loads of rain on us, but it doesn't feel as if that will happen.  It has the feel of summer about to burst on the scene.  Every year I make a bucket list for summer so the 7th item will be that bucket list. 

7.  The Bucket List don't have to do everything, but you should sure want to...

100. Waterballoon fight
99. Cook out...ribs...make it take all day.
98. Hunt Fireflies.
97. Pool. Any day. Often.
96. Star gazing. Find constellations and get lost in the sky.
95. Read at least a book a week.
94. berry picking.
93. Baseball. (Watching).
92. Go fishing.
91. Home grown tomatoes.
90. Go to movies.
89. Hike in the mountains.
88. Skip rocks.
87. Ice cream for dinner.
86. Go to the zoo.
85. Go to a museum.
84. Go to an amusement park.
83. Fireworks.
82. Library once a week.
81. Go to a concert.
80. Put on a concert.
79. Host a party.
78. Go out to dinner at a place profiled on the Food Network.
77. Spend an hour a week at adoration.
76. Go for walks with each of my children.
75. Date night once a week.
74. Sleep in.
73. Poker games.
72. Vacation.
71. Invite friends over for dinner and cards.
70. Visit Family.
69. Write letters.
68. Paint a room.
67. Make pie.
66. Go to a winery.
65. Listen to new music --expose self and children to jazz/blues as part of a different genre.
64. Perfect fried chicken recipe.
63. Help son participate in half marathon.
62. Teach daughter to drive.
61. Potty train son. 
60. Camping. Honest.  I wouldn't mind doing this in the summer....
59. Pick up my guitar and start relearning what I've forgotten.
58. Write bulk of book.
57. Go out to lunch with girlfriends.
56. Do nothing all day.
55. enter a contest.
54. play more board games.
53. chalk draw the whole driveway --which is very long.
52. Go to DC chili cook off.
51. Water park for the older kids.
50. Exercise....what?  I should want to do it. 
49. Create a scrapbook with daughter who likes doing this sort of thing.
48. Garden to help grow those tomatoes.
47. Go to a parade.
46. Listen to live music.
45. learn a new piano piece.
44. Learn a magic trick.
43. Bubbles.
42. teach daughter to skate.
41. Amaze children by creating play dough.
40. Go to civil war battle fields and other historical places.
39. Feed the ducks.
38. Ride a horse.
37. Splash in puddles.
36. play whiffle ball league.
35. miniature golf tournament of champions.
34. teach son how to cook.
33. learn how to cook something new.
32. go to a circus.
31. swimming lessons.
30. Driving lessons.
29. draw.
28. paint.
27. participate in a 3-5K
26. get my hair done.
25. discover a new restaurant.
24. bocce ball, horse shoes and crochet
23. fix something.
22. plant a tree.
21. find some way the whole family can give back to the community and do it.
20.  nerf gun fight
19. sunday brunch
18. hide and seek
17. go to Baltimore and play tourist.
16. go to DC and do the same.
15. go to the little tykes summer program at the park for my littles.
14. Sprinkle park for littles.
13. Castle Park for all.
12. Ice cream from the truck.
11. lemonade stand.
10. binge reading day.  No chores. No school projects. No errands. Just you, comics or book of your choice, a soda and a blanket. Enjoy.
9. Lego challenge --we will use every lego in this house to create something. It will take everyone all day. It will be awesome.
8. Play video games with children until I am no longer schooled.
7. Notice that no where on this list was mate socks.
6. say a family rosary once a week.
5. Walk the mall with a friend.
4. Fly a kite.
3. Write about these adventures.
2. Declutter home.
1. Thank God for every day no matter what if anything happens.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism Week Two

I'm enjoying the reflective component of participating in Lawn Chair Catechism.  You can participate too, even if you don't get Sherry Wendell's book,  Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

This exercise is designed for both the individual called to discipleship, and the parish at large, but since I cannot speak for my parish, I am only a member, I will focus on the individual component.

  • Have you always been Catholic? Yes. Catholic school, grade, high, college and even graduate school.  It helped. 

  • How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God? My mom and dad permeated my life with Catholicism. It wasn't until I left home --like really no longer being immersed in a community that reminded me of my faith, that I got a bit lost, but I did get a bit lost, i.e. becoming a 2x a month visitor...3 during the high seasons, not quite recognizing what I was losing while knowing I was losing something all the same.  I did however acquire the habit of regular prayer from my folks and the many examples of God answering "yes."

  • If you were raised in a Catholic home, are your family members all still Catholic?

  • Most are steeped in their faith.  I don't feel I should speculate or discuss a faith story that is not my own. I do know, what makes us followers of Christ is a sense 1) that we know God is and that 2) He is profoundly interested in our lives, in our happiness. 

    How do we come to know the first fact and thus the second?

    In my own life, it was the efficacy of prayer. I knew we prayed. I prayed for certain things. I also understood or had the grace of knowing when my prayers had been answered, yes, no, wait.  God was not a genii, but He remained present in all things, I couldn't miss Him. 

    Having parents that prayed, that went to mass more than weekly, that told us to pray whenever we had a problem no matter how seemingly hard/small, as part of the process and who would ask if we were still grousing, "Did you pray?" helped.  So prayer. Daily talks and walks with God, no matter the method, Dad's favorite was the rosary, Mom read the daily readings or went to mass, helped instill prayer as a first response to all things such that my own kids roll their eyes when I say the same thing.   Even though they also swear that I have Saint Anthony on speed dial given his response to my requests. 

    How do we know He is profoundly interested in our lives? For me, it is the daily readings of scripture, that seem always when I need it, to speak directly to whatever it is that is going on in my life.  You would think I'd know and be used to coming to the mass or the readings and finding God's words written just for me by now. But I am always shocked to the core when the gospel or psalm or the songs line up to explain to me whatever it is I am pondering and how immediate the understanding is, almost before thinking, as if these words or thoughts were always written on my heart, I just had not read them yet.  

    How do I teach this to the next generation?  This is the challenge of every parent. 

    We're taking them to mass. We pray daily. They hear the stories of our faith struggles.  I'm hoping, all this witness sticks.  I do worry that sometimes, they only see the duty and not the joy, or that they don't recognize that this is joy when they feel overwhelmed by the level of craziness of our everyday.  When this worry tempts me to become anxious, I use the rosary as my lifeline to talk to God and discover all the things I've been carrying around. Petitioning with each Hail Mary, I feel very confident laying everything at Mary's feet, the big and the little stuff. 

    But ultimately, some of my strongest memories of childhood come from having a family, even an extended family, that would go to mass together and then feast on a regular basis.  Sundays at mass and then a meal with cousins and uncles and aunts and friends, fried chicken and eggs benedict and bacon, grits and tamales.  This was a ritual.  Mass mattered, it mattered to the whole family, the tall and the small. 

    And it wasn't just my family. Sundays at the Newman center where my parents volunteered as retreat coordinators, with the college students who said mass and played guitar and talked about Who am I, Who am I in relation to others and Who am I in relation to God...or that's what my brain remembers from the posters they'd make when I was allowed to tag along and listen and draw pictures illustrating whatever they said.  My drawings had probably more bunnies and rainbows than they talked about, but the substance despite going over my head, sunk in eventually.  Mass was central. Mass mattered.  Mass was the essence of our faith. 

    So what do we do to be disciples...pray, witness, and feast on the Eucharist, and afterwards with each other.  Sounds like a fun way to live. 

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    A Tale of Two Reactions

    This past weekend, I was in Southbend, Indiana at the 25th reunion of my graduating class from Saint Mary's College.  In trying to get back, I found myself trapped at the airport.  While waiting for someone to show up at the gate to give us directions and a touch of hope of leaving, I spied a classmate I hadn't had a chance to visit with, and we struck up a conversation. 

    "So M---, tell me what's going on in your life."  I asked.
    She told me about her job, her family, how much she enjoyed the reunion. Then the dreaded return question, "So do you have any family?"

    I'd come to know the question would start a firestorm response and it did.  "10 kids?" "You have TEN KIDS?" By this point, other people waiting for the plane were staring.  A graduate clearly back for his ten year said, "That's insane." 

    It was 5:30 in the morning, our plane had been delayed by three hours during which I could have been sleeping.  "Thanks." I said.  Not my best witness point I admit.

    "No really.  That's so..." he searched for a word, "Catholic."  He quickly added, "I have two."  and put his book up over his face so I'd know the conversation was over. 

    Another woman looked at her husband, "We would have liked to have more..." her voice trailed off.  Clearly the loss of not having haunted her. I'd had a conversation with another woman that weekend who pined for more but was refused.   There were echo memories of pain from the loss of having more to love everywhere and I felt like a giant reminder, not always the good kind. 

    Today, I went to buy donuts for my son celebrating his summer birthday with his class.  After purchasing three dozen, the man behind me whistled and said, "You're in charge of the party huh?" I smiled and said it was for my son's 7th grade to mark his birthday.  He congratulated me.  "How many children do you have?" he asked.  I was startled to get the question in this context.  "I have ten." I said and steeled myself for the reaction. 

    I wish I knew how to write what he said, it was "Praise God" but in Arabic.  I asked him what it meant.  He explained that he was Muslim and from Turkey and children were a gift from God. He repeated saying "Praise God." multiple times and "Ten children!" in response.  I thanked him and took the donuts to my kids Catholic school. 

    It's not that having one or ten children is the thing, but the reaction to the existence of children is the thing. How is it that in a theoretical bastion of Catholicism, my having ten seems more shocking to the everyday sensibilities of strangers than when standing in line to buy pastries in secular Gaithersburg, Maryland?

    It was then that I was struck that if we really want to live a Catholic life, we have to stand out, be part of the world but not of it, and that God knowing I like to be liked, determined I needed to have this many.  Despite loving attention, despite loving to talk, I would balk at witness that singled me out, so God devised a means where by I could not escape witnessing. But standing out is hard, particularly when you go to places where you don't expect to stand out. 

    That's so....Catholic.  Really?  To me, the woman who says she has seven and wears a smile even as she mourns the loss of one of her children, this is so Catholic, the woman who stands in the pew near me in mass and sings her heart out even as I know it is partially breaking for having to touch on the brokenness in her life, a divorce and a starting over, this is so Catholic, and the woman who soldiers on, gracious and to my mind, tolerating the intolerable as she repeats over and over again how she is not married and has no children but does so to each new eager face who asks with equal graciousness of spirit, this is Catholic. So Catholic is not a number of children or how many holy cards I have in my purse, or how many decades you say, it is how you treat others and why you treat others as you treat them, because you hold to love, to Christ first.  What is so Catholic is not the outward appearance of a life, but the inward sacrifice of a life lived.

    Sunday, June 2, 2013

    7 Quick Takes...yeah, it's Sunday...

    7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 219)

    1. The Book of Helen....

    I am still in limbo about the final edits of Helen.  That doesn't mean I'm being idle though, I've started reading The Odyssey again and outlining.  Having written a book without the benefit of an outline but with the resources of multiple myths detailing Helen's story, I will now try writing a book using an outline to make up for the fact that Penelope has far fewer stories about her life than Helen.  

    2.  What I've been up to...

    This past weekend, I had the luxury of journeying to Saint Mary's College for my 25th year reunion.  I'd been a bit down as no one from my key core of five friends would be there. Two are deceased. One has deliberately withdrawn from all contact, and the other two for various reasons did not come.  But not having the people I would have naturally clung to, allowed me to rediscover all the wonderful women I didn't quite know while I was at SMC, as I was busy being the age that I was.  One fellow classmate summed it up as she lamented she had lost out on something of the experience by not going to football games. Another thought she had missed it by living off campus.  A third worried about what she missed in going abroad and another, what she did not experience by not travelling to other countries. 

    What we all sensed was glow of each other's college education, and how theirs was somehow fuller than our own, but the reality, was each of us had a limited experience of the school based on our own hang ups and need to grow up, and that none of us could have "the Saint Mary's experience."  Collectively, we were the Saint Mary's experience.  It's as if each of us as the bricks of the building were lamenting that we were not the whole building, because we loved the whole building and could not quite see how we fit into the structure, integrity and strength of the school itself.

    3.  What I'm Reading...

    Strange Gods

    I just finished Elizabeth Scalia's Strange Gods while on the plane back from Southbend, Indiana.  I have to say, if you buy this book, don't use a high lighter, or you will find your book is soggy from yellow underlining before you get to the last page. I had to pace myself because my natural tendency is to gallop through reading, as if the finish line is the goal, rather than absorbing what is said.  That being said, I found the whole experience delicious. There were wonderful passages and lines that revealed how we perpetually engage in the creation of idols in our everyday life and stories that made me laugh aloud while pondering my own ability to put many things in front of those I love including God.  I also love the cover! 

    4.  Understanding Face

    It is a gift I've never fully understood but always been very grateful to have.  Despite being a lousy listener who can't remember names to faces, total strangers tell me their stories. Getting a hotdog in the Terminal C in Chicago in between flights, a lovely woman named Lolita served me.  She also told me how she'd lost 70 pounds on weight watchers but couldn't get her sister to do it, her sister opted for a surgical method of reduction. I told her that was inspiring and she should go on the website and send a testimonial. She showed me a before picture. It was an impressive transformation.  Then she served another customer but before I left, she called me over and whispered how she dreamed of one day helping children between 13 and 17 who had been written off.  I told her I hoped she would.

    5.     Favorite Moments

    I wish I wish I wish I'd brought a camera to the weekend.  But there is a photo in my head of my two favorite teachers, Sister Jeanne and Jean Rodes talking to each other, beaming smiles and arms open across the table from me.  Friday I'd squeezed in eating with them and we took three hours which felt like nothing, I could have listened to their lives all day.  It was a feast in so many ways to just be in their company. 

    6.  Other Favorite Moment

    Walking to the Grotto at Notre Dame to light a candle, to pray for a family, for all those I carry in the rosary, for all I met that weekend, for all those at home.  It was a walk I'd made so many times but it never grows old.  I love those old trees that cradle the road and the quiet beauty of that prayerful replication of the vision of the Blessed Mother by Saint Bernadette at Lourdes. 

    7.  When I came back....

    Anna decided I should be a chair.  Paul voted for pillow. Either way, both have determined Mom isn't going anywhere without them.  It's good to be home. 

    Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

    If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!